The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) just released a new streaming ad featuring CIA officers on a mission to gather intelligence in support of the President and policymakers.
The mission, as portrayed, is familiar to those of us who served at the CIA. I spent most of my career, long before 9/11, in the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center (CTC). In Italy, I worked closely with Italian intelligence and law enforcement counterparts to keep Italian citizens safe.
Despite that, Italy issued arrest warrants against several Americans, including me. The source of the arrests concerned a joint counterterrorism operation – the Milan Rendition. While the operation may have been- unjustified, it had been approved by Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi’s office as well as the U.S. National Security Council (NSC). More on Milan a little later.
Timing is everything. The CIA’s recruitment ads will now run alongside SpyGate, the CIA’s “coup” to remove President Trump. SpyGate – a counterintelligence operation also known as “Crossfire Hurricane” – was run out of a “fusion cell” in CIA headquarters by President Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan. “Counterintelligence” (CI) was the CIA’s weapon of choice in the absence of corroborated intelligence. A counterintelligence label deterred investigations and allowed for “overclassification” of non-evidence.
Recently declassified SpyGate documents revealed systemic abuses of power within the leadership of the CIA and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Americans are now aware that the CIA employed “tools” generally reserved for use against our foreign adversaries, to spy on President Trump and to entrap several Americans in his orbit. Shockingly, the CIA went so far as to obtain the cooperation of our “allies” the U.K. and Italy in this endeavor.
Trump’s NSC Director – Lt. General Michael Flynn – was specifically targeted, after publically stating his intention to sort out the intelligence agencies for their unchecked abuses of power.
General Flynn was certainly familiar with the Milan Rendition, because of the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) inexcusable decision to allow the conviction of a U.S. Air Force Colonel by a NATO ally – Italy – thereby violating the military’s code of “leave no soldier behind.”
More than a decade ago, as soon as an Italian prosecutor announced his decision to launch an investigation into the rendition, CIA’s managers moved swiftly to have their identities masked as well as moving to have information removed from trial records. Evidence that this actually happened, is buried in footnotes in Italian court documents.
The maskings were followed by a massive disinformation campaign, where the same CIA managers transferred their culpability to rank and file officers accusing them of “sloppy tradecraft.” Congress was told to not investigate. Porter Goss, the “outsider” former Director of CIA, ordered the CIA Inspector General (IG) to investigate the debacle. Goss was over-ruled by the senior CIA managers and he was soon ousted from his post as director.
The CIA then offered up five “rank and file” intelligence officers – whose identities had been unmasked – for prosecution. I was one of them. The Italian government too offered up their foreign intelligence service (AISE) officers for prosecution. The CIA and Italian intelligence agencies covered the entire operation and subsequent investigation as state secrets, preventing rank and file officers from defending themselves in court. To date, Italian lawyers have allowed the exclusion of this significant exculpatory evidence, to go unchallenged.
A Barr/Durham investigation will soon reveal that a few of the same U.S. and Italian officials involved in the Milan rendition were also part of SpyGate. Such an operation would require reliable, high-level Italian government officials with shared motivation and expectations of an eventual reward – such as a Hillary “win.”
The Italians used the same playbook in handling the SpyGate fallout. While not publicly stated, Italian PM Guiseppe Conte fired a few AISE officers, giving the appearance of “accountability.” To keep the U.S. media dogs occupied, the Italians released a hound called Joseph Mifsud. As anticipated, the media never caught up with him.
Recently, Ambassador Richard Grenell compared the Washington agenda to a game of musical chairs. When the music stops, long time establishment officials must occupy the chairs in order to maintain policy status quos and prevent investigations into past abuses of power.
These days there is much jockeying for such chairs in Italy.
This Washington agenda was evident in the six months prior to and after the 2016 elections.
In October 2016, with Spygate in full operational mode in Italy, a previously convicted senior AISE officer filed a lawsuit for the release of an unclassified AISE internal investigation into the rendition, so as to exonerate himself. An MS5 politician and member of COPASIR (Italy’s Director of National Intelligence – DNI), said the document would reveal a “political cover-up and false narrative” that resulted in many unwarranted convictions. Privately the official told me, that those in then PM Berlusconi’s office should be held accountable. His message on Facebook clearly articulated his position on the issue. The COPASIR chairman as well, wanted me to appear before the committee and disclose evidence.
Italian PM Matteo Renzi moved swiftly to classify the document, dismissed the lawsuit, and assigned the AISE officer to a senior-level intelligence job. Renzi then hurried to Washington to attend Obama’s final state dinner in his – Renzi’s – honor.
Weeks later, Trump won the Presidency. Of paramount interest to the CIA, was that I not pursue any options that might upset the Spygate applecart. One such concern was my establishing contact with the incoming Trump administration (and General Flynn) and disclosing the facts – the truth.
I had also hoped that my case would serve to reverse the precedent set under the Obama/Biden administration wherein U.S. officers involved in sanctioned government activities had been abandoned, with tangible protections for rank and file officers in the future.
Brennan was leaving nothing to chance. The CIA’s best option was that I serve the full 4-year sentence abroad until the 2020 elections were over.
I was informed that Brennan had traveled to Portugal during the Trump transition period, resulting in a legal ruling for my “immediate” extradition to Italy. The pressure on Portugal to issue this ruling must have been significant. Portugal’s Attorney General herself had approved my arrival and stay in the country and the Portuguese courts had still not completed my legal process trying to halt the extradition.
Was Brennan’s travel just a coincidence? Doesn’t seem that way…
I did spend 10 days in a Portuguese prison. The Trump administration intervened, resulting in an 11th-hour reprieve. Italy took one year off my sentence – vice all four years that had been granted to other convicted officers because the CIA had interceded on their behalf. The CIA did not intervene on my behalf.
General Flynn was soon ousted and replaced by the Washington “establishment.” Efforts for full resolution on my behalf abruptly stopped. State Department’s counterintelligence office summoned me. I was told in no uncertain terms that there would be no further assistance on my case. In a counter-intuitive move, I was told I should go serve the three-year sentence in Italy.
Never before in CIA’s history, has the CIA’s leadership facilitated the imprisonment of an officer or collaborated with a foreign government to have an officer serve a sentence for a sanctioned operation in a country with a hostile judiciary. Since this was a joint CIA/Italian decision, being summoned before committees was no longer an issue.
I returned to Italy. A Milan probation court ruled that I could not speak nor publish anything related to the rendition or face imprisonment.
In October 2019, Secretary of State Pompeo and the Director of CIA, Gina Haspel, visited Rome. Neither contacted me, leading the Italian government to logically conclude that the Trump administration had abandoned me and made me the exception to Trump’s policy of bringing all Americans detained abroad, home.
As SpyGate unfolded I got increasingly concerned for my safety. Being under the control of a foreign government was by far a more dangerous situation with no recourse.
I made the decision that I must leave. After a harrowing 12 hour journey, I managed to escape from Italy.
In the past week, Italy issued another arrest warrant for me. It’s unlikely that it was a decision made unilaterally.
The Department of State remains silent.
The CIA remains silent.